A May Meditation on Minding your Own Mothers
“Unless you see me breast-feeding a baby or witness me actively in labor, do not wish me a Happy Mother’s Day”
Tomorrow is Mother’s Day (in the U.S.) but in the UK it happens in mid-late March, and so for the first time in my childfree life, I get to suffer through this holiday twice. Yay Me.
I don’t do flowers. Or Cards. I do a few phone calls because I genuinely love those who are mothers in my life, but they are no more or less love-filled than every other phone call I make. I do not make fun of anyone who goes apeshit over this holiday and lavishes gifts and emotional outpourings on Facebook on their mom. (1) I simply don’t participate. I choose not to. PLEASE DON’T TRY TO MAKE ME.
Before you (my dozen devoted readers) dismiss this for my usual callousness, remember that there is a difference between being nice and being kind.
Any childfree woman can tell you that the array of bullshit they receive on an annual basis would fertilize an urban beautification garden project in a mid-size metropolis. For many, being childfree implies that you are a lesser woman because you will never know the maternity struggle. In addition to not knowing the club’s secret handshake, I am expected to compensate for my lack of children: I should have more of something else in my life and if I don’t, then that is somehow an indication that something is wrong with me. I have been judged for my lack of career progress (what with all the free time I surely have without child-rearing), for example. And why aren’t I rich and glam? (those are the binaries – suburban soccer mom or diva jet-setter).
“You don’t understand” is the double-edged sword swung freely – regardless of whether I can’t, won’t, or don’t want to. Assumptions made about my status are abundant. I have been eyed suspiciously and judgmentally by folks walking in the neighborhood, the community pool, the golf course, the shopping center, the grocery store. If that special mix of envy and pity were currency, Liliane Bettencourt and I would be besties. (2)
Truthfully, I like babies. But they often sense my lack of maternal instinct within a few moments and get a lung-full, so I am forced to pass them to Hubby (a baby-whisperer) or back to a parent, who inevitably looks on me with pity, as in “you poor thing, you just don’t know what you’re doing.” Condescension and assumption are the infertility bedfellows.
Baby showers are fun; I even enjoy planning and hosting them. But there is always the risk that the focus will stray from the woman in the room who is quite obviously pregnant; any woman between 20 and 40 knows exactly what I mean. What is wrong with women (of all ages!) that if you are under 40 they want to calibrate your biological clock? Unless you actually see a baby about to exit my person, do not ask me if I am pregnant, or when I plan to be, or even if I want to be. (3)
And I adore children. Remarkably, they usually adore me. Interacting with them, though, invariably makes people nosey about our lack of them. Often times, just to get people to shut the fuck up and move to any other topic than my vagina, I tell them, “I’m a cancer survivor. I can’t have kids.” (4) But even that sometimes backfires, because then people ask about the cancer, or even worse, adoption, two things I hate talking about so much that I would rather offer them a guided tour around my ovaries. With a complimentary champagne.
I once had a girlfriend who just couldn’t let it go. She would give me and Hubby presents – ACTUAL GIFTS – on Mother’s Day. Her heart was in a good place I am sure, but it was creepy and inappropriate, and my efforts at telling her this year after year fell on deaf ears. Eventually, I simply refused to accept a gift; she got mad and pouted that I hurt her feelings. Yes, yes, I am a consummate bitch because I insist that you giving a Mother’s Day present to a childfree woman who you know to have struggled through years of miscarriages and failed infertility treatments is wildly appropriate. Poor you.
And people wonder at the professional cultivation of my resting bitch face.
Just as politicians need to stop regulating what’s in people’s pants, women also need to stop assuming that women want to share about what’s in theirs with other women. Do not assume that because I have a vagina, I want to talk about breeding.
To that conversation, I usually don’t offer up anything more than “It just didn’t work out for us.”
Many people hear what I am saying and we change the topic.
The more socially challenged respond with what they think is acceptable to say, or what they think you want to hear (I am never sure). “It just takes time with some people. Don’t worry; it will be so amazing!” (Because the finality of my verb tense there was obviously missed you.) Those who feel they must offer up something positive (but also clearly suck at social cues) say something along the lines of “I just know it will happen for you two!” (Don’t be my cheerleader unless I give you the fucking pompoms.) Or one of my favorites: “You guys will make great parents one day!” These folks are also crap at reading my body language, which clearly says either I WILL PAY YOU TO SHUT UP RIGHT NOW or (if it’s a Tuesday or Sunday) IF YOU KEEP TALKING, I MIGHT CUT A BITCH.
Or worse, they give you advise on how to get pregnant. Even worse still, they often launch into a long ass saga of their own fertility narratives, giving details no one but their mate and their Gyno need to know, evidently because there’s no greater bonding between women than discussing vaginal tears and your husband’s sperm count. (5)
I was once lambasted by a total stranger in a Smoky Mountain post office for not having children. I commented on the photo of a baby photo taped on the work station of the postal worker, and was told with pride it was her first grandson.
“Do you have children?” she asked me.
“It’s alright. It just didn’t work out for us. We’ve decided now that we’re too old for them.”
“Well that’s just selfish,” came the comment from the woman in line behind me.
“Excuse me?” I wheeled around with more force than probably necessary, but really? WTF lady.
“I think it’s shameful and selfish for a young healthy woman like you not to bring life into the world. It’s God’s commandment and gift to us to have children who will love us and take care of us when we get old.”
Holy Fuck, I thought. I needed this like I need a damn whole in my head.
“Well I have a lot of evil in my heart,” I said, stepping closer to her. “So perhaps God has decided that its best I not procreate. I guess you should add that to your nightly prayers to the Almighty, hon.”
It was not the first time I hustled out of a building and told Hubby to floor it out of the parking lot. (6)
Religion and fertility in discussion can be an awkward mix. I will tell you that I am no more interested in debating the ethics over donating frozen swimmers to a clinic than I will debate with you the validity of what I said to that woman in the post office. The judgement I feel is not God’s, but yours. The body of the next person who tells me that “God just decides that some woman aren’t meant to be mothers” will never be found.
And these sadly, just scratch the surface of the judgmental and invasive experiences that the childfree endure. All the damn time.
It is also a sad truth that when some of your friends start having babies, you lose them as friends. Not because they are bad people, but their lives are now about feedings, and toddler clothing, kindergarten, Easter egg hunts, organic bento box school lunches, dance lessons and little league, and quite frankly only the closest of pre-baby friendships make the cut. You are childless, and therefore do not orbit around the baby that is now (and rightly so) the center of their universe.
“Well what should we do?” Kind-hearted and exasperated fertile friends ask me.
They feel I am being unfair because they are only expressing an interest me. They love me. That’s great. The answer is: Just let it alone. Unless I’ve asked you to: Don’t recommend fertility doctors to me, or email me articles about amazing clinics around the country that have wonderful success rates. (Stop trying to fix me so I can be “normal” like you.) Don’t ask me about my sex life (It’s not just for making babies, you know.) Don’t ask me if I will be interested in adopting a cute little Korean baby that your church’s refugee worker knows about. (True Story.) Don’t ask me if you can fundraiser adoption party for me (Are you insane? How many ways can you insult me before I break your nose?) Respect my decision to NOT want to talk about the most painful pieces of my life because you think I should. (7)
Keep your “I was just trying to help” attitude out of it and stop over-reacting when someone calls you on it. You have no idea why someone is childfree; consider that maybe you need to care a little less about it.
This doesn’t mean you have to exclude me from your life. (Do that because you can’t stand the way I chew my food, Seinfeld, or you genuinely think I am insane. These are both acceptable.)
For the love of all that is holy LISTEN to me when I tell you that my vagina is off limits for discussion, but this does NOT mean that I don’t want to be around your babies, enjoy and love your kids, support and adore them, just as I do my nephews and nieces. Being childfree does not mean that I am anti-child. I had a close girlfriend whose baby had two christenings, neither one of which we were invited to, and not once did it occur to her how hurtful that would be. (Clearly, we didn’t make the cut.) Being childfree doesn’t mean I will not change a diaper any more than it means a prissy young mommy will hire a nanny to do that for her. In my case, it means I get to be the fun auntie, friend, sissy, who shows up and plays with your kids as they draw and sing, decorates cupcakes, teaches them how to Rock Chalk Jayhawk or to howl like the Wolfpack, or teaches them how to play Texas Hold Em with MnMs. And later that night, goes home to a bourbon, a cigar, a husband and a variety of mutts who all adore her.
Part of me can’t believe I am saying this. But what I really want, when it comes to Non-Moms Day, is for my girlfriends to be more like Hurricane. In this arena, she is the shining example to follow.
At 18, I started my hate-hate relationship with cancer; my body was struggling to manage and combat this foreign invader, and I was unable to read any sign accurately, even ones clearly posted. Additionally, it appeared that my lifetime lack of estrogen decided to show up one day and throw a surprise party; I thought the hangover hemorrhage would kill me. I even had my first false positive pregnancy test, a cruel joke that would get played on me many times over the years. (8) Hurricane, over the next ten years, became fiercely protective of my womb. Without hesitation or social glue, she would tell people to mind their own damn business. She took no prisoners. She was fierce. And our own discussions of fertility treatments were similar to those (we didn’t have) about chemotherapy; she liked to pray for me on treatment days, so I marked them on her calendar she could be more accurate in her aim. If I had news, she had the patience to wait for me to share it.
Even when I was actively trying to become a mom, I did not participate in Mother’s Day. In Texas, we used to go to the races. Now you would think that Hurricane would be her usual disapproving self about the gambling, the drinking, and general shenaniganery of such a day out. In fact, she sent me a check for $10 and said to put it on a classy-sounding horse. Because she respects my choice to avoid this day in my own way. And because nothing says Happy Non-Moms day like putting money on the ponies.
When we moved to NC, I started going to the beach for a weekend away, but Hubby wasn’t a big fan of me going alone for more than 48 hours. (He insisted that his worry was that the bail money I kept in the trunk wouldn’t cover me, but really, I think the big softie missed me.) Atlanta Braves weekends, beach getaways to Mustang Island, even drinking beer and riding roller coasters at Busch Gardens, have all been the highlights of Non-Moms weekends.
This year, I took Hubby to his first drag variety show. Because nothing says Happy Mother’s Day than a 6’2” Scottish drag queen named Crystal hosting a building preservation fundraiser in 5” stilettos.
My point is, enjoy your day, ladies, if you are a Mom. It’s a glorious thing to be, I am sure.
But please be respectful of those for whom this particular journey ended differently.
Don’t get overly sensitive and dramatic; there is no need to walk on eggs shells around the childfree. Just follow THEIR cues. If they are telling you (often literally!) that they don’t want to engage, then RESPECT them and following fucking instructions. It’s really that simple. Childfree people do not begrudge you your happiness; we love being included in your joy, and appreciate the hard work and sacrifices you make to raise kids into good people. Enjoy your holiday, but don’t judge me if I don’t.
(1) Facebook is plastered with I ❤ Mom memes and photos of hugs and kisses and flower arrangements, that a lesser woman would internalize and consume with increasing depression. I am grateful that my skin grew thick before Zuckerburg hit puberty.
(2) “Lily B” (with me, she would go by her rap name) is an heiress who, despite losing 4 BILLION last year when her L’Oreal shares took a hit, is still the richest woman on the planet.
(3) And even then, you need to be calling me a taxi or boiling some water, bitch, not initiating a fertility seminar.
(4) These two facts are independently true, but they were never conclusively tied to one another.
(5) Here’s a hint, ladies. If your infertility and pregnancy struggles were ultimately successful, then SHUT THE FUCK UP to any woman you know to be childfree, especially if she’s jumped(ing) through similar baby hoops. What you think is encouraging? It’s annoying. The kindness you think you are showing? that “you just hang in there” speech you’ve given so many times? It’s never going to be accepted as anything more than condescending drivel, despite your intentions. Instead of making this about you, the way to be a true friend is to ASK the childfree woman if she wants to talk about it. If she says yes, then listen as much as you talk. Use experience to answer questions, to give examples, but don’t proselytize. If she says no, accept that and start talking about the latest episode of Empire, like good girlfriends should do.
(6) To his credit, he has done as instructed, every single time.
(7) There may, in fact, be women out there who revel in telling their childfree narratives, full of heart break and sadness, but I have never met one. NOT ONE. Generally, the only ones who sing the praises of infertility are those who baby paydays.
(8) Worst. Jokes. Ever.